Custer Died for Your Sins

by Vine Deloria Jr.

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On page 95 of Custer Died For Your Sins, Deloria suggests that “each anthropologist desiring to study a tribe should be made to apply to the tribal council for permission to do his study. He would be given such permission only if he raised as a contribution to the tribal budget an amount of money equal to the amount he proposed to spend in his study.” How would these requirements prepare young anthropologists for the ethical demand?

If anthropologists were required to ask tribal councils for permission, they would demonstrate more respect for the communities and cultures they are studying. In addition, if they were required to contribute to the tribal budget, it would make them a more active member of the community they are studying rather than a passive observer who benefits from infringing on the community.

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This suggestion is important because it will establish more respect and trust between anthropologists and their subjects. In particular, the anthropologist’s contribution to the tribal budget would ensure that the study was mutually beneficial. Oftentimes, anthropologists intrude on a community purely for the sake of their own academic and professional development. They can come into a community and leave a community without helping the people in any way, yet benefit off of the community's hospitality. Deloria’s suggestion would require anthropologists to play an active role in community development and enhancement. This would make the work more ethical because it would ensure that an anthropologist's presence in a community was constructive instead of just disruptive.

The ethical demand is not an enforced requirement for anthropological studies, but rather an expectation rooted in universal moral codes of human interaction. Asking the tribal council for permission would demonstrate respect for the tribe’s people and culture. The action would also show that the anthropologist is aware of the significance and value of their studies. Consider how Deloria goes on to describe current anthropologists who study tribes as “ideological vultures” (Deloria 95). This description brings to mind an image of anthropologists flying into communities, studying the culture, and flying away again with ideologies that they will now bring to other cultures. Deloria’s recommendation would ensure that anthropologists are more respectful and considerate, and thus more ethical, when conducting their studies.

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